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Save Money Doing Your Own Car Repairs

Updated on August 31, 2012

That Darn Check Engine Light

From work acquaintances too Uncle Bill at last weeks family reunion somebody is always griping and grumbling about how the check engine light just won't leave them alone. Last month it was 200 dollars for this, the month before was 300 dollars for that. We all know what that little evil check engine light wants. It wants your hard earned money!

At anywhere from 80-120 dollars for diagnostic fee's from your garage or dealership, an older car can start getting quite expensive. You know every time that light pops up on your dashboard at least a hundred is popping out of your wallet! It doesn't always have to be this way. Most of the time that check engine light just needs a small and cheap repair to go away. So why do we keep paying in the hundreds for these trivial jobs that we can do on our own for just the price of the part? I have no idea.

This is a little article talking about how you can get your car diagnosed, fixed and rolling again for as little as heavenly possible.

Welcome to the internet, it's a plethora of knowledge & DIY's

I was never interested in cars and could care even less about working on one or its specifications until I got my used 2001 Jetta Wolfsburg. The car was awesome, had the interior package with Recaro seats, BBS rims, dark black and fast. The same day I got it I cruised down to the tint shop with a handful of cash to get those windows blacked out. The ride was looking sweet and I loved it until that little devil light showed up on my dash. Check engine, why? I just bought it!

Knowing little about cars and repair cost I dropped it off at my local Volkswagon and Audi dealership. 300 dollars and five hours later I had my car back good as new. Now if I would of known then what I know now I would of kicked my own ass for paying that much money to replace a $30 plastic diverter valve. I have since learned, that job as well as most of these three, four hundred dollar jobs only take a few minutes to fix with a screwdriver, ratchet set and a little research on the world wide web!

From spark plugs to brake repair, audio installations to installing a boost gauge DIY's can be found on all of this. You don't need to be a mechanic or even car savvy, if you can use basic tools and google then you are good to go. About every type of car has a group of enthusiast, and where there are enthusiast there are forums. Forums filled with wonderful information, DIY's, pictures and videos. Even the most feeble minded individual can follow the well written out instructions to get these jobs done.

I know what your thinking, what good is it to be able to fix something if I still don't know what's wrong with it! Well here is how to get that diagnostic done without the $100 price tag.

Free Diagnostics & Car Scans

To figure out what is wrong with your car the mechanic plugs a computer into a pin socket under your steering wheel. Then the computer reads the codes off the car telling the mechanic what the faulty part is. Why pay good money for that when you can have a local retail store do it for free. Yes free.

Almost all large auto part chain stores (Advanced Auto, AutoZone, Checkers) will scan the codes for free and tell you what part or parts are needed for the repair. They will also rent you the code scanner (or any other tool) at the full price of the scanner/tool which they will refund when you bring it back to the store. OBDII scanners can also be bought for $30-$100 if you want your own. There is one flaw I should mention, OBDII scanners will pull the codes for VW and Audi but they will not give as complete details as a Vag-com scanner made for VW/Audi.

For VW/Audi you can download free vag-com software from Ross-tech (google it) depending on which version you download you can use it with your laptop and a third party (ebay) OBII cable. (do your own research for what your car needs if you go that route). The free software will read codes and allow you to clear CEL as well as airbag codes but will not be as in depth as if you pay for the real software. In my opinion if you have a laptop and $20 for a ebay cable this is the way to go.

Now that you know what is wrong with your car go get on the internet find a few DIY's and read over them to make sure you are feeling comfortable with the task at hand. Keep in mind most of these repairs are easy but scary to attempt for a novice but once you gain confidence in yourself and abilities you will feel at ease attacking your next DIY. So if you're feeling confident go to the store and buy your parts, or if your cheap like me find them on the internet and save a few more dollars. Side note: Make sure you trust your internet source, a lot of people sell "new" sensors from junkyard cars.

How do I turn the check engine light off?

Once your repairs are done and you've given yourself a pat on the back for saving some money and doing a great job, you still need to turn of that darned check engine light. To clear the light off of your dash disconnect the negative terminal from your car battery for a few seconds to a minute. That will reset the error codes and turn off the light.

Tool Time With Tim....

You can never go wrong with buying tools. They are a one time investment that will most likely be with you for the rest of your life. If you find that you need certain size socket or wrench to complete a job, just buy it. Why do I promote buying tools? Because buying the tools and parts will still be less than half the price of having a mechanic do the job for you. When you buy tools buy them at tool stores or Hardware stores like lowes. Stay away from the high tool prices at auto stores.

One of my favorite places to buy tools for incredibly cheap is Harbor Freight Tools (they also have a online store). They have incredibly low prices on sockets and wrenches which are a great buy, but also use common sense. Don't buy cheap tools that could be the difference of life or death, like car jack stands. I sure as H E double ll would not want to use cheaply made weak (country unnamed) metal jack stands if I'm working under a car. So for standard low torque tools just buy cheap. There are also many tool companies that guarantee tools for life like Craftsman. Break a hammer from ten years ago and they will replace it. Now that's a company worth supporting! On that note JanSport Backpacks do the same. Quality!

For most jobs a socket wrench set, allen wrenches and screwdrivers are sufficient. I would recommend buying a torque wrench if you plan on doing your own spark plugs or other jobs that are torque specific, just so you don't go overboard and tighten them to much. If you don't already have a large tool collection you'll find that you will usually need to buy a tool or socket to complete the job. In my personal experience I think the extra ten dollars is worth it for the knowledge you gain from doing the work yourself.

Tools that you know you'll only be using once in a great while, like a caliper tool set for example. Just rent it from the store for free, (unless you plan on helping all your buddies do their brake pads to).

Was It Worth It?

Of course it was. For less time then waiting for your car at the dealership you learned something knew, fixed your car for probably around a fourth of the cost, got some cool new tools and spent some quality time with your kid or buddy while they watched in awe and amazement of your hidden mechanical abilities!

 Ever since I spent that first $300, I have never been back to a dealership or garage besides for a timing belt (I know my limits!). From spark plugs, bad coils, torn hoses, fuel filters, temp sensors, MAF sensors, battery replacement, brakes and rotors, cleaning the throttle body, installing a after market stereo system and amp, boost gauge, and whatever else. Between my Jetta and Gti I have saved thousands of dollars in labor fee's and have really enjoyed the knowledge that I've learned and experience that I've gained.

 So next time your check engine light comes on what's your excuse for not doing it yourself?


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    • WheelScene profile image

      WheelScene 5 months ago from U.S.A.

      Thanks for sharing a very comprehensive article! Do you work on cars yourself? You seem to be a VW expert!

      Happy hubbing :)

    • profile image

      cj 5 years ago

      Very coherant explanation in all repairs areas! Thank you!